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No reason Bulls' Rose can't recapture magic

Forman: 'Our belief and his belief is that he will come back stronger than ever'

David Haugh

In the Wake of the News

9:24 PM CDT, April 29, 2012

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Amid the civic uncertainty Saturday night over Derrick Rose's basketball future created by the torn ACL in his left knee came hope from the unlikeliest of places: on a mound inside a baseball park six miles south.

At U.S. Cellular Field hours after Rose suffered a stunning season-ending injury, White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy continued an impressive comeback from latissimus dorsi reattachment two years ago by giving up a measly run in a complete-game loss to the Red Sox. Of Peavy's last 23 innings, 22 have been scoreless.

Yes, Chicago, superstars can return to an elite level of performance after major surgery. Just 23, Rose still has an opportunity, despite facing at least a six-month rehabilitation process, to put together the best basketball career our city has witnessed since Michael Jordan's.

Recovery from catastrophic injuries takes time and tenacity, patience and perseverance, but competitive athletes in every sport who are wired like Peavy and Rose routinely come back as good as ever thanks to modern medicine.

Eventually, no reason exists why Rose cannot recapture his ability and the imagination of Bulls fans. What makes the injury so hard for those fans to accept is the knowledge that this Bulls team was built to win a championship this year, and who knows what the roster will look like when Rose returns?

Projecting Rose to eventually regain his MVP form takes a smaller leap of faith than predicting the Bulls immediately will return to NBA title contender status. As one respected longtime sports doctor told me Sunday, the greatest challenge facing Rose might be as daunting emotionally as physically.

By now ACL reconstruction surgery tends to be routine, but rehabilitation can be a dark, lonely place. This wasn't the type of solitude Rose talked about seeking in a recent GQ cover story, but it is the reality that awaits him.

"There's not a kid I've been around that's mentally tougher than Derrick Rose," Bulls general manager Gar Forman said Sunday. "Our belief and his belief is that he will come back stronger than ever."

Experience should make Rose educated enough in the next phase of his career to avoid hurling his body into midair with regularity. Emphasis on perimeter shooting could make Rose more accurate from 3-point range so he can penetrate less and protect his body more. His effort will be as familiar as his No. 1 jersey.

"We know everyone wants an answer for why and fans can be eager to look for blame, which is natural, (but) the reality is bad injuries happen in sports and unfortunately this happened in our city, to our franchise and to one of the finest role models we've ever been around," Bulls vice president of operations John Paxson said. "I feel so badly for Derrick, but this very well could be what defines his greatness going forward."

Indeed this very well could reveal how tough the kid from Englewood truly is — as well as test the resourcefulness of the Bulls organization.

Consider every payroll and personnel decision Forman and Paxson have made since Rose's arrival pointed to winning with the current roster mix of ability and chemistry typically seen on championship teams.

In the offseason, while Rose rehabs, the Bulls front office will face tough decisions on contract options for key players on the NBA's deepest bench: C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer. Starters Rip Hamilton and Carlos Boozer won't be any younger the next time Rose suits up. Ramifications of Rose's injury mean the supporting cast that welcomes Rose back might be different — and less supportive.

"It's not a death sentence for him or our team," coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters at the Berto Center.

Staying positive and focused, Thibodeau seemed unfazed by criticism he received for having Rose in the game with a 12-point lead and 1 minute, 22 seconds left. Forman sounded more flabbergasted by the backlash in a phone conversation.

"It's a playoff game!" Forman said. "There absolutely was no issue with us."

Two highly respected sports physicians told me nobody should blame Thibodeau or NBA Commissioner David Stern for a compressed regular-season schedule that took a physical toll. Nobody should blame Rose's five previous injuries that one doctor reasoned had "no correlation" to tearing an ACL. Nobody should blame Adidas, as a rogue Nike designer suggested on Twitter, or a curse on Chicago athletes.

Sometimes, there is nobody to blame but the basketball gods.

"It's a freak deal," Forman said. "It could have happened the first or last minute of the game. It could have happened at practice. It happened, but we still have enough to get it done."

If the Bulls somehow do, I kidded Forman that Thibodeau could name his price in upcoming contract negotiations.

Forman laughed out loud.

At least he still could.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh